India’s ban on more than 50 Chinese applications, including popular ones like TikTok and WeChat, has left millions of users surprised and disappointed.
The government said the applications “harm India’s sovereignty and integrity, India’s defence, state security and public order.”
China has called on India to uphold the legal rights of international companies.
But experts say the decision – amid growing tensions between India and China – is a hasty political move.
Anti-China sentiment has been high in India since earlier this month when clashes between the two neighbours with nuclear weapons left 20 Indian troops dead.
The fighting took place in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, where both countries have stepped up near the disputed border.
Calls for a boycott of Chinese goods soon emerged, and the government issued directives to cancel or limit Chinese contracts with public sector companies.
But banning applications has taken many by surprise. The list includes the Weibo microblogging platform, the Clash of Kings strategy game, the UC Alibaba browser and the Club Factory and Shein e-commerce applications.
The application makers said they were in talks with the Indian government, while Beijing asked India to reconsider its decision.
“We want to emphasize that the Chinese government always requires Chinese enterprises to comply with local and international laws and regulations. The Indian government has a responsibility to uphold the legal rights of international investors, including Chinese ones,” the ANI news agency quoted the ministry spokesman as saying. of Chinese foreign Zhao Lijian as a saying.
What caused the ban?
India’s Ministry of Information Technology said the ban was the result of “many complaints from various sources” about applications that “stole and securely transmitted user data in an unauthorized manner”.
Many of the Chinese applications have been linked to data privacy disputes and have been accused of sharing sensitive information with the Chinese government. US senators have even called for an inquiry into TikTok, which strongly rejects the allegations.
Media captionGeet is a popular TikTok star
The Indian government said in a statement that “the compilation of these data, their extraction and profiling by elements hostile to India’s national security and defence, which ultimately affects India’s sovereignty and integrity, is an extremely deep and immediate concern that requires emergency “.
This is not the first time that Chinese applications have been banned in India. In 2017, the UC Alibaba browser went under the scanner to get rid of mobile data of Indian users. And that year, India’s Defense Ministry asked all armed personnel and officers to uninstall 42 Chinese applications, which it classified as “spyware,” according to media reports.
Some, however, believe that the timing of the ban – amid rising tensions – is not coincidental, but rather a response to border tensions.
“This is a purely political movement,” MediaNama editor-in-chief Nikhil Pahwa told the BBC.
“I don’t think it will affect applications – may be the number of users [will decrease], but it will only have a minor impact on [they’re] revenue,” Pahwa said.
So what is the impact of the ban?
The ban will affect millions of users in India.
“As China has shown, governments can block applications – not just remove them from app stores, which has already happened in India, so you can’t reinstall them or upgrade an existing installation,” says the policy expert. technical Prasanto K Roy.
He adds that while there are ways to avoid the ban, it will “effectively” kill popular applications.
“If more than 95% of 100 million users go out, that kills the ‘network effect’ and most of the content, and therefore an app like TikTok is no longer attractive.”
India is TikTok’s largest foreign market, with around 120 million users.
In the years since it was launched in India, the app has become a platform for Indians of all ages and classes – from police constables to housewives – who dance, sing and sing for their followers. The app has turned many ordinary Indians into social media stars.
And Roy says the ban will hurt all Indians who made money and business relationships through these apps.
“The thousands of TikTok influencers who made a living from the platform and the many Indian merchants and entrepreneurs who need to connect with people in China and do it via WeChat, it cuts them off.”
He agrees that there are reasons to worry about how apps process user data, but says the answer should be in the form of a privacy law, which India does. is not.
“It is a sweet blow to the Chinese, a punishment for the alleged border violations and the recent violent conflict,” he added.
What do application creators say?
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, told the BBC that it is “determined to work with the government to demonstrate our dedication to user safety and our commitment to the country as a whole.”
Nikhil Gandhi, director of TikTok in India, said on Twitter that the company had been invited to meet with “interested government stakeholders for the opportunity to respond and present clarifications”.
Other application manufacturers have yet to respond to the ban. Experts say most of these companies will try to pressure policymakers but are unlikely to be allowed as long as tensions persist at the border and anti-Chinese sentiment remains high in the country.